Stopping the denial

Community shares observations about high incidence of STDs in Alachua County at meeting hosted by 4As


Teresa Mercado-White, the regional minority HIV/AIDS program coordinator, speaks at the Alachua County Health Department during the Stop the Denial Community Mobilization Summit.

ELIZABETH HAMILTON/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 2:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 2:53 p.m.

The nearly 100 residents attending the Stop the Denial Community Mobilization Summit on sexually transmitted diseases appeared determined to do whatever it takes to make sure that Alachua County is dead last in the rankings.

Alachua County ranks fourth for the highest level of STDs, out of 67 counties in Florida.

Sponsored by the African American Accountability Alliance of Alachua County, or 4As, the community mobilization meeting drew a diverse crowd that included community leaders, government officials, Alachua County School Board members, health and other professionals, young people, and concerned individuals who shared what their organizations are doing and offered suggestions to reduce the incidence of STDs in Alachua County.

The meeting, which was held in conjunction with the 4As regular monthly meeting, was held Monday at the Alachua County Health Department.

STDs are transmitted primarily through sexual contact and include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, crabs/pubic lice, scabies, herpes, HIV/AIDS and others.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Department of Health, 50 percent of all newly reported STD cases each year are for those between the ages of 15-24 across the country. In Alachua County, 8,452 cases, or nearly 75 percent of all new cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea, were reported by those between the ages of 15-24 from 2008-2012.

"We have a serious problem in Alachua County," said Juliun Kinsey, chairman of the 4As Education Committee, who set the tone for the meeting. Darry Lloyd, 4As president, called for community involvement. "Our kids need us, our young adults need us," Lloyd said. "But we can't do it by ourselves."

Teresa Mercado-White, area 3/13 minority AIDS program coordinator and health education program consultant, said young people are getting STDs and don't know how to protect themselves. She said they are not getting sex education from their parents or the schools. "They think gonorrhea is a fruit," she said.

Mercado-White said the 4As have the power to lead in the mobilization. "I'm here on standby, waiting to get this task up and running," said Mercado-White. "We need people to join."

Brandon Johnson, 17, and a junior at Gainesville High School, presented a passionate discussion to point out that STDs are a countywide problem and everyone's concern. He said young people in his age group talk to each other and don't trust people older than 30. He said they listen to Mercado-White because "she is relevant, attacks the program and talks like us."

"There is no reason for young people to be dealing with dying because of something caused by sex," Johnson said. "We have to come together to solve this problem. It's more than one group's problem. We can't blame it on one group of people."

Timothy Thomas, a GHS ninth-grader, said kids don't know the number of kids infected with STDs, because they're not being told the numbers.

Leanetta McNealy, a member of the School Board, said the school system needs to be involved in the mobilization. "Because it involves our students, we need to be involved," said McNealy in a telephone interview. "I'm going on the record that this has to be a key issue in the curriculum."

Brandi Roach, student adviser at the University of Florida RCP Movement, which stands for Respect Yourself! Check Yourself! Protect Yourself!, said RCP works to bring awareness by using social media and offering information and condoms to college students at places they frequent.

Dr. Nancy Hardt, professor and programs director at the UF College of Medicine, said St. Lucie County had a high incidence of STDs and they mobilized and worked with the school board to incorporate sex education in the curriculum.

She said the school board there trained 1,500 teachers to teach kindergarten through 12th-grade age-appropriate sex education and HIV/AIDS education. "In four to five years, St. Lucie dropped from 20th (highest in Florida) to 44th in the state," Hardt said.

"No one thinks it's the school's problem," Hardt said. "It's just where the students are."

Bobby Davis, regional HIV/AIDS Program Coordinator, said the stigma of STDs is keeping people from getting tested.

Dr. Thomas Martinko, a physician in the UF General Pediatrics Adolescent Medicine, called for contact interviews to make sure the sexual partners are treated quickly to stop the STD epidemic.

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